Shotgun Regionalization

“It’s OK to look.” That was the slogan of, the online dating site. A little creepy, I thought when I first saw their ads on TV. You know, it’s not OK for some people to look. Like if you’re married. Or in prison. But the ad didn’t discriminate. Clearly, the idea was if they could get people to look, they might find someone attractive enough to prompt an initial membership – paid by credit card set on auto-renew.

That’s pretty much how regionalization of schools in Harwich was put to Chatham voters at town meeting a year and a half ago. We’re not voting on regionalizing schools, we were told – just looking. Just taking a look. Let’s look. It won’t hurt to look. That sounds reasonable. OK, form a committee for that purpose. It’s OK to look.

But what wasn’t mentioned at the time was that this committee was empowered by state law to call a town meeting to vote to regionalize all on their own. An unelected committee of three able to put a major portion of the taxpayers money on the table was given this authority without any disclosure to the voters.

That town meeting would be called without the consent of the selectmen. It would be called by far less than the minimal number of voters as required by normal petition. It would be called without a single hearing by the finance committee on the fiscal soundness of the claims of great savings being made. And although it could have been done with ease, it would be called without ever asking the parents of the roughly 600 children in Chatham schools what they want.

I’m a parent of a Chatham student. The school has my e-mail. They have my home phone and cell phone numbers. They send home reams and reams of paper every day of notices for this, that and everything else. So if anyone actually wanted to know what I wanted for Sofie, there were many ways to go about it. I am only left with the conclusion that they haven’t asked parents because they don’t want to hear what they have to say.

And holding a public hearing – during the information age – is the barest of efforts, and about the most pathetic attempt at civic engagement available. But this isn’t about what students need, or what parents want for them, or consent of the governed. It is about rushing to the altar before we have a chance to think this through.

This was about looking. Just looking. It was not getting into an arranged marriage. Sorry, no, Harwich, I like you. But as a friend. I know we’ve lived next door to each other, and some well-meaning people who don’t know us very well think we’d look great together, but, well, you’ve gotissues.

I know you need a new high school, and I feel for you and your kids. But marrying for money is not the solution. And you know what they say, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Really, I can’t take your protestations of a rosier life for Chatham’s kids and your kids together when you seem to be in a perpetual state of economic meltdown.

Honestly, this seems like nothing more than a money grab by you, and power grab by Chatham school officials who don’t want their budgets as closely examined by their own finance committee and voters at town meeting.

You see, I look up the road a little from you and I see Dennis-Yarmouth. And that’s just a disaster. But you say we don’t have to be that way. We’ll get along. We’ll have a nice new high school. Well, that’s the thing – we already have a good high school in Chatham. And a new middle school. We paid a lot of money for it. A lot, and it was not without some headaches to build it. What’s more, if you want to talk about cost savings, look at Falmouth, who ended paying an extra $19 million in cost overruns for their high school.

Sorry, Harwich, but we in Chatham have our plates full as it is. We’re doing a lot of building right now, what with a new police station, a new town office annex, a new fire station, and a major sewer expansion. Getting into a permanent, open-ended commitment just doesn’t seem like the wisest thing right now.

I know you like all this talk about regionalization and cost savings and such. Maybe you’re right. You could be right. So prove us wrong. Go tell the state that we turned you down. They said you had to first ask around before they’d give you money for a new school. So you did. Go build that great new school, and put in all the cool things you mentioned. Show us you can stay within budget. That will impress Chatham.

But what’s more, show us and everyone else on the Cape that you are top-notch educators at your spiffy new school. Beat us in graduation rates and test scores and college placement.

Do that and, because of school choice, Chatham parents will be beating down your doors. And DY parents. And Nauset parents. You’ll have more students – and more money – than you’ll know what to do with.

I know, I know – a few people from Chatham came to you and got you all up for this and want to set a date for town meeting vote and everything. But they don’t speak for us. Regionalization with you just seems like too big a risk. We were just looking.


Read this and Andy's other columns at The Cape Cod Chronicle.

Note:  A snap vote has been called for 4 PM on Thursday 10/21 by the Acting Chair of Chatham's Board of Selectmen.  To voice your opposition, go to the meeting, call (508 945-5100) or email their office ([email protected]). welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on